Question about seeing football in England.
July 22, 2008 8:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm toying with the idea of traveling halfway around the world to see a football game in Chelsea with my son, and I would like some advice.

Some details:

1. I am in Tokyo. I can book tickets and accomodation from here (I think), so that's not a problem.
2. It will be my first time in England. I speak English, so communication will not be a problem.
3. Please assume I am a total noob regarding seeing football outside of Japan. I have no idea what watching a football game is like in other countries.
4. I will be taking an 11-year-old football-crazy kid along me.

I hope I don't offend any hardcore Chelsea fans out there, but I am not particularly a supporter of your team. However, I do love watching football games and it has been my longtime dream to experience one in England.

Well, since one of my most favorite players, Deco, has left Barcelona to join Chelsea, I find myself seriously toying with the idea to actually go through with making this dream a reality while he is playing there.

My question: Is this a good idea? Here in Japan you hear all sorts of horror stories about hooligans running rampant, but whenever I see a televised Premier League game, everybody including kids seems to be enjoying themselves with no sign of anybody getting particularly out of line. This might sound like a paranoid and silly question, but will I, a clueless Japanese mom with a kid tagging along, be okay watching a game there?

Just thinking about seeing a real live Premier League match is exciting to me, and hopefully worth the money it will cost me to get there.

Any and all advice appreciated. Thanks.
posted by misozaki to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My understanding is that for the Premier League in general, and big clubs like Chelsea in particular, the stands have become a much more family-friendly place in recent years. I think it has to do with a push to raise ticket prices and rip out bleacher sections -- which used to be cheaper, more fluid and packed with bodies.

Those have been replaced with assigned, fixed seating with actual chairs instead of benches, like what you'd see in a U.S. baseball park. The higher price tag attracts a customer from a higher income bracket and, in theory, less likely to get drunk and brawl. Meanwhile the fixed seating makes it harder for things like stampedes and crushes of bodies to happen.

Premier League fans correct me if I'm wrong. (Unfortunately it's 4 a.m. in London as I write this.)

It's also possible that police have been increasingly profiling hooligan gangs, and clubs have been banning them from the stadiums. I'll have to fact-check that.

I think there's a chapter in the excellent How Soccer Explains the World that mentions this. I'll try to find it when I get home.

The upshot is that I think absolutely you should pursue this dream, and don't think you're even remotely crazy for thinking about doing it.
posted by donpedro at 8:52 PM on July 22, 2008

Premiership matches are very safe these days (at least as long as you don't go out of your way to provoke anyone). They are very family friendly. You will have no problem with safety, and most people will probably be very nice. You will see a ton of other kids there.
There are tons of police and stewards around to help with you with directions etc and you should have no problems.

Stamford Bridge has some very poor sight lines, you really need to make sure you are know where your seats are. It would be a shame to travel all that way and barely be able to see, it might be worth spending the money to get better seats. Also, make sure you are in the Chelsea fan section and not the away team's section.

Also, while there will be a lot of fuss over Deco in the new season, injuries happen all the time. Try to decide in advance that you won't be heartbroken if Deco isn't playing. You should have a great time regardless.

If possible, try to get tickets for a match with exciting opposition. I would define this as almost any Champions League match(maybe not the earliest rounds) , plus Premiership matches against Liverpool, Arsenal, Man U. This will give you the most exciting atmosphere.
Next best opponents to see would probably be Spurs or Fulham.
posted by cushie at 8:53 PM on July 22, 2008

Thanks very much for the answers!

donpedro, that book looks fascinating, I'll see if I can get a copy for myself. And thanks for the reassurance that I'm not crazy!

cushie, yes I understand injuries happen and I won't be heartbroken if Deco isn't able to play (though admittedly I will be somewhat disappointed). Deco's joining the team is definitely a big reason for me to do this, but I also like a lot of the other players on the team.

Unfortunately, I don't think I can be really picky about the opposition because I don't have much leeway regarding dates. It'd be a real bonus if I manage to see Chelsea and Man U play against each other, but I'm pretty sure I'll be happy to see any match during the next season.
posted by misozaki at 10:20 PM on July 22, 2008

I agree with the previous posters; One thing to be aware of if you are taking children to football matches, and that is not evident from TV coverage, is the swearing. Expect to hear "industrial" language in chants and individual rants. This is nothing to be afraid of and can be quite amusing, I just mention it to forewarn you.

Tickets for the big games that Cushie mentions are not always easy/cheap to get hold of. I'm in London and have to use contacts and pull in favours to get to some games; expect to pay a premium for these tickets.

I'm sure you will love the experience of a premiership match, even if it is Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and not Arsenal at the Emirates!
posted by rikatik at 2:04 AM on July 23, 2008

It's a little bit worse than rikatik makes out. Obviously swearing in english isn't going to be too worrying to an eleven year old japanese kid. However as a very occasional Premier League attendee I am always surprised by the verbal aggression of the fans. I've had matches almost ruined by sitting next to someone who spends the entire 90 minutes screaming violent obscene racist threats at the players, the ref, and the opposing fans.

I think you need to warn your son that although some fans sound insane and angry, it's just because they love football too much.
posted by roofus at 3:39 AM on July 23, 2008

agree with roofus and others. Have been to see Chelsea play as well as numerous other matches in the UK. The "verbal" aspect is quite intimidating when sitting amongst a bunch of chavs loaded up on Stella.

No fears on the physical side and generally everyone is well behaved. My one area of trepidation with going to watch a live match is to avoid heading to any local bar before or after if you have children in tow (even if it is just to get a quick bite to eat). Attitudes and alcohol combined are a bit much.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 4:22 AM on July 23, 2008

I would recommend booking tickets in the family section to avoid some of the worst kind of verbal. I actually can't seem to find any reference to it on their website, but Wikipedia says it's the lower tier of East Stand. Probably one to check out before you book the tickets.

Bear in mind that tickets for a lot of Premiership games are like gold dust, and as rikatik mentions, often very expensive.
posted by featherboa at 7:09 AM on July 23, 2008

I love the football and go most weeks, but roofus and Funmonkey1 are right - to the first-timer it can be a bit intimidating and it's worth remembering that before the input of huge sums of money from TV and foreign billionaires, Chelsea were as rough as any team in the league, and a little of that element remains. If you are concerned, and I think you probably don't need to be, see if you can get tickets in a family section (I guess there must be one at Stamford Bridge). I've been in the ones at Highbury and the Emirates and the atmosphere was very safe and friendly. Please don't be put off by this slightly negative aspect of the game in England.
posted by rikatik at 7:13 AM on July 23, 2008

oops, just saw featherboa's post that says the same thing better...
posted by rikatik at 7:15 AM on July 23, 2008

No worries in Stamford Bridge. Hooligans have all but been priced out of that venue.

I've been there three times and been to White Hart Hart Lane (Spurs). Zero problems.

In the U.S., they only cover a soccer match on the news if there's a riot. So Americans equate all European soccer marches with violence.

I'm guessing it's the same in Japan.
posted by Zambrano at 10:27 AM on July 23, 2008

White Hart Lane. Sorry.
posted by Zambrano at 10:30 AM on July 23, 2008

I agree with all of the above who mention that it is very safe. Also that it's expensive and tickets may be hard to come by, depending on the opposition. I hope you get good seats, and enjoy the match, but I'd also suggest that if you're staying in London for a while, try out a lower league club as well. Newly relegated Fulham is not far away from Stamford Bridge, or if you have a car while you are there, check out my old stomping grounds Brentford FC which is about half an hour by car away. QPR at Loftus Road is closer, but some of the sight lines there can be a pain.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 10:53 AM on July 23, 2008

A section from the book I mentioned, Chapter 4: How Soccer Explains the Sentimental Hooligan:

After an incident in 1989 in which 95 people died asphyxiated against fences at a stadium in Sheffield, "a government commission demanded that stadiums turn their standing-only terraces into proper seats, like the ones you might find at a theater. Policing at stadiums would finally become a serious business, with video cameras documenting every fight and song. ...

"The new requirements transformed the game's economics. To finance the reconstruction of their stadiums, the old owners, mostly small self-made businessmen, imported loads of new capital. Much of it came from slick city investors, who understood that soccer held a giant captive market and massive untapped profit centers. The new stands included plus executive suites that they leased to corporations. ... A new, wealthier fan began attending games in the safer, more comfortable stadiums. For the first time, women were plentiful in the stands. ...

"But those changes came at a cost. The new clientele eroded the old, boisterous working-class ambience. As Alan explained this transformation, he invoked a time when 'ten thousand would come to the stadium. Six thousand of them would be up for a fight. The rest came to watch a fight.' ... 'Now people just want to go to the game so that they can say ... Look, I'm cool. I go to Chelsea.'"

(I'm still within fair use I hope? The book is highly recommendable, one of the best nonfiction works I've read recently.)
posted by donpedro at 11:08 AM on July 23, 2008

Depending on how long you plan to stay in London, I'd really recommend going to a match at a smaller club in the lower divisions as well as your Chelsea match. It's a completely different experience - the football won't be as good, obviously, but I bet you and your son would enjoy it just as much as a big Premier League game. (As at Chelsea, I'd make sure you had tickets in a family-friendly part of the stands.)
posted by jack_mo at 12:19 PM on July 23, 2008

Thanks everybody for your kind answers! I have a much better idea of what to expect now. My son is beside himself with excitement about the prospect!

try out a lower league club as well

I would love to do this! And I'm sure my son would as well. I hate to say this, but I'm pretty sure any team the lower division over there is better than most top-level J-League teams here in Japan...

The warning about the verbal aggression and profanity would just be my problem since my son doesn't understand English, but as long as there's no physical violence I'm pretty willing to endure 90-odd minutes of it and chalk it up as another aspect of British football if I do end up next to somebody who does this. As long as there's no concern for our physical safety, I want to get the most out of this experience as I can, and I suppost that would include the bad with the good.

Thanks again, you've all been a great help.
posted by misozaki at 3:08 PM on July 23, 2008

Here's a list of all Premiership fixtures for the upcoming season. You might have to move quick to get tickets for any of their big three home games, they're all before the end of November. Happily they're also all on Sundays, so that should fit with your plan to see a lower league game on the same visit, as they're mostly be on Saturdays.
posted by biffa at 2:23 AM on July 24, 2008

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